Alex Gordon

Big Names, Big Games in AL Wild Card Contest

Lester and Shields Prepared For Their One Game Duel

Lester and Shields Prepared For Their One Game Duel

by Drew Sarver

It has been 29 years since the Kansas City Royals reached the postseason. 1985 saw the Royals win their one and only World Series Championship. (With a  little help from umpire Don Denkinger.) Tuesday night, the Royals will host the Oakland A’s in a one game showdown between the two AL Wild Card winners. To the victor go the spoils and a divisional round match up with the Los Angeles Angels. You know where the losers go.

The A’s have been to the playoffs 11 times during the Royals drought, but haven’t been to the World Series since 1990. Their last World Series title, the ninth in franchise history (The first five were won when they called Philadelphia home), came in the “Earthquake series” with the San Francisco Giants.

The Royals were an expansion team in 1969, two years after the A’s departed Kansas City after a 13-season run. The only prior postseason meeting between the two squads came after the strike-shortened 1981 regular season. The Billy Martin-managed A’s swept KC in three straight games before they were swept in three games by the New York Yankees in the ALCS. It was a disappointing end of the season for Kansas City, which lost the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies one year earlier.

Tuesday night, the teams will have one chance to move on to the divisional series. That is the punishment in Major League Baseball for not winning your division.

The Royals are counting on their ace, James “Big Game” Shields, who earned that moniker while a member of the Tampa Bay Rays, to take them to the next step. The Rays’ usual money crunching resulted in a trade that sent Shields and reliever Wade Davis to KC for then prospects Wil Myers (now a regular in the Rays’ lineup), pitchers Jake Odorizzi (now a regular in the Rays’ rotation) and Mike Montgomery.

Shields, a free agent after the season, has been incredibly consistent in his two seasons in the state of Missouri. He followed up a 13-9, 3.15 campaign in 2013 with a 14-8, 3.21 mark this season.  The 32-year old has topped 200 innings in eight straight seasons, and pitched just 1.2 innings less this year than he did in 2013. He’s made at least 33 starts in each of the last seven seasons, a testament to his durability.

A 16th round pick in the 2000 MLB amateur draft, Shields has had his ups and downs in six post-season appearances. He put his team in a 3-1 hole in the 3rd inning of Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS, but the Rays rallied for a 6-4 victory. Shields picked up the victory and settled down, before departing in the 7th inning. Though he lost both of his starts in the ALCS, which Tampa Bay won in seven games, Shields lost the opener to Boston’s Daisuke Matsuzaka, 2-0. He didn’t fare as well in a 4-2 loss in Game 6.

Down one game to none in the World Series, Shields tossed 5.2 shutout innings to help Tampa even the series with the Philadelphia Phillies at a game apiece. Shields didn’t get another chance to pitch, however, as the Phillies closed things out in five games.

Shields will need to be at his best for the one-game playoff, because his counterpart is one tough customer. Jon Lester has a pair of World Series rings, but his victory over cancer is arguably his biggest win. After treatment for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Lester returned to the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and threw 5-plus shutout innings in Game 4 of the Red Sox World Series sweep over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Like Shields, Lester has been a model of consistency in his career. He’s topped 200 innings in six of the last seven seasons and may be having his finest season to date. Lester put up career bests in innings pitched (219.2), ERA (2.46) and walks per nine innings (2.0). He averaged better than nine strikeouts per nine innings, allowed 0.7 home runs per nine innings, and was named to his third All-Star team. For someone that played for over eight years in a baseball hot bed such as Boston, it’s hard to believe how little Lester is talked about when the names of the best pitchers in baseball come up.

Jon Lester is ddefinitelyone of them and that will be reflected this coming offseason when the free agent to be hits the open market. Lester had a tough decision as the trade deadline approached this past Summer. Stay in Boston, destined for last place, or go somewhere with a chance to make the postseason and possibly return to New England over the Winter. Lester chose the latter and produced a 2.35 ERA in 11 starts, of which he won six. Through no fault of his own, Oakland plummeted out of first place (14-23 in their final 37 games) in the AL West and ended up 10 games behind the Angels.

Instead of preparing themselves to play the winner of the Wild Card play-in, and trotting out Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, and Sonny Gray, the A’s will lean heavily on their left-handed ace to give their starting rotation the chance to flex their pitching muscle. They have a good chance to move on with Lester, who enters the game with a 2.11 ERA in 13 playoff appearances, 11 of them starts.

Two big names for one very big game.

Who hits Shields:

Josh Reddick .318/.318/.864  3 HR 5 RBI in 22 plate appearances (PA)
Nick Punto 4-14 (.286) with 4 walks in 18 PA

Who doesn’t hit Shields:

Adam Dunn 7-35 (.200) 1 HR in 40 PA
Coco Crisp 3-24 (.125) in 25 PA
Jed Lowrie 3-16 (.188) in 16 PA

Who hits Lester:

Alcides Escobar .353/.429/.471 in 21 PA
Lorenzo Cain .313/.353/.500 in 17 PA
Eric Hosmer .308/.471/.538 1 HR in 17 PA
Raul Ibanez .333/.333/.667 1 HR in 15 PA

Who doesn’t hit Lester:

Billy Butler 4-28 (.143) in 33 PA
Alex Gordon 4-25 (.160) in 28 PA
Josh Willingham 3-20 (.150) in 26 PA
Omar Infante 3-20 (.150) in 22 PA

 

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

KC’s 2014 Goal: Baseball Royalty

yventura

Fireballer Yordano Ventura is ready to take on the AL

by Alli Baker

Key Acquisitions: Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante, Danny Valencia, Jason Vargas

Key Losses: Will Smith, Chris Getz, Ervin Santana, David Lough

For the past few decades, the Kansas City Royals haven’t exactly been regarded as the team to beat. They’ve tended to stay toward the bottom of the pack during the regular season and then remain quiet in the ensuing offseason. 2013, however, was a completely different year for the Royals, as the team had a legitimate chance to make the playoffs in the final month of the season. Although the postseason didn’t happen for the Royals, an 86-76 mark was their best record since 1989 and was good enough for a third place finish in the AL Central.

This past season put some faith back into the organization and gave Royals fans something to hope for. With young stars Eric Hosmer (.801 OPS-17  HR-76 RBI-Gold Glove)), Mike Moustakas (12 HR), Salvador Perez (.757 OPS-13 HR 79-RBI-Gold Glove), Alex Gordon (.749 OPS-20 HR-81 RBI-3rd straight Gold Glove) and veteran Billy Butler (.757 OPS-15 HR-82 RBI), the Royals have an offense and defense to build around. They’re also looking for a breakout year from center fielder Lorenzo Cain.

The organization made moves this offseason to keep that faith alive among the fans and the team’s progress moving forward. Two of the biggest problems faced by GM Dayton Moore were right field and second base. Both Chris Getz and David Lough left the club, leaving these spots vacant. The Royals did exactly what was needed, signing free agent second baseman Omar Infante and acquiring Norichika Aoki from the Brewers for pitcher Will Smith to take over the spot in right field.

Infante, considered to be one of the best second basemen in the league, should be able to help the Royals both defensively and offensively during the upcoming season.

With the departure of free agent starter Ervin Santana and ace James Shields entering the final season of his contract, the Royals were also faced with a pitching problem. They filled the void left by Santana when they signed veteran Jason Vargas, though he isn’t going to give the Royals the same type of performance that Santana did.2 Luckily for the Royals, not all players have to come from trades in the big leagues. The Royals minor league system is deep in starting pitchers, most notably Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura.

Zimmer, who is known for his strong fastball, pitched for the Royal last season, but had his season shortened by bicep tendinitis. However, the injury shouldn’t impact Zimmer’s chances of making it to the majors this season. The Royals still have high hopes for the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft. The right-hander is expected to join the team around mid-season and is being counted on to become a permanent part of the rotation.3

The 22-year-old Ventura is currently competing for the fifth and final spot in the starting rotation, joining Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Vargas, and Bruce Chen. The native of the Dominican Republic, who made his major league debut last season with the Royals, is “ready for the major leagues,” according to  Moore. Throwing upwards of 100 mph, Ventura is likely to find a place in the bullpen if he doesn’t win the fifth spot in the rotation.

Zimmer and Ventura are at the top of the Royals promising future and both were ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects List.1  Moore hopes they’ll be joined by talented prospects, including Raul Mondesi and Jorge Bonifacio, give the Kansas City Royals hope that their future is looking favorable.

After their best season in over 20 years, the Royals know that the team has a chance to do something amazing. With their offseason acquisitions and development of prospects, it appears the Royals now have the tools to make 2014 a defining season.

1 – Baseball America.com 

2 – si.com

3 – sbnation.com

Alli Baker is a hockey fanatic and contributor for Designated for Assignment.  She can be reached at allibaker23@aol.com or followed on Twitter at @allibaker23